SC Legislative Update
By: Will Kinney
The South Carolina General Assembly opened the 2018 legislative session on Tuesday, January 9. While the legislative session typically starts off slow with several weeks of short sessions and routine budget hearings, the 2018 session began at a full sprint. The legislative response to the abandonment of the V.C. Summer nuclear project in Fairfield County has dominated the conversation at the Statehouse in the first month. Further complicating matters are the related issues of the proposed merger of Dominion and SCANA and the possible sale of state-owned utility Santee Cooper.
Following numerous meetings in the off session months by the House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee, the House has worked quickly to pass several utility related bills. The first of these two bills (H. 4378 and H. 4379) are intended to address the flaws in the existing regulatory structures that contributed to the V.C. Summer crisis.
As passed by the house these bills would:
- Create a new “Utilities Consumer Advocate” inside the Office of the Attorney General, moving the duty of consumer protection and ratepayer protection from the Office of Regulatory Staff.
- Establish a new “Utility Oversight Committee” to replace the influential State Regulation of Public Utilities Review Committee. The newly formed Utility Oversight Committee would be made up of six lawmakers and six private citizens chosen by the Governor / House and Senate leaders.
The House also passed a third bill, H.4375, which takes aim at the Base Load Review Act - the controversial law that allowed SCANA to charge customers for the V.C. Summer Units 2 and 3 during their construction. The bill would freeze SCANA’s ability to charge customers for the failed project while regulators and the courts examine whether or not the charges were lawful. The bill also removes the ability of utility to assess such charges on future projects.
The bills have been sent to the Senate who has declared their intention to address the situation in a deliberate manner. The Senate also conducted meetings in the off session to examine the V.C. Summer situation. While the Senate has a number of their own bills on the topic, initial responses to the House bills have been generally positive thus far by Senate leadership. The House and Senate bills will be debated by the Senate in the coming weeks.
While utility issues have dominated the first month of session, legislators are eager to move on to other priorities in the weeks ahead. Among issues that could be debated in the coming weeks are matters of potential importance to the green industry in South Carolina. Bills concerning dam safety, surface water withdrawal and usage by large farms, and other issues may be debated this year and warrant close attention.
While the issues related to V.C. Summer are set to dominate the debate for the near future, we will keep you updated on the issues of importance to you as this unpredictable and unusual legislative session moves closer to adjournment in May.